Our dishwasher is done. It still runs, but dishes come out dirtier than when they went in. It’s not a pretty sight. Over the years, we’ve had the repairman out a few times to overhaul it, but the period of time between calls to the repairman is getting shorter each time. I’m not happy that a “top-of-the-line” dishwasher less than 10 years old has performed so poorly.

So now we have a dilemma. We plan on completely re-doing our kitchen in 2012 — getting rid of the warped 1950s particleboard cabinets, knocking down a wall and making it bigger, and getting energy-efficient matching appliances. So buying a dishwasher now is extra inconvenient. My husband wants to buy a cheap one for the interim, but I think that’s wasteful. We’re still hashing that out. In the meantime, we’re washing our dishes by hand.

I’ve been trying to figure out how we can wash the dishes by hand in the most eco-friendly way. Here are some tips I’ve come up with.

  • Wash in hot water, but rinse in cold. That way, the hot water heater doesn't work as hard.
  • Use a smaller container in your sink to fill with washing water if you have a large sink. That way, you can get depth in the water, but you don’t use as much. I have a very large plastic popcorn bowl that someone gave me that I’ve been putting in the sink. A large soup pot would work, too. You can buy dish tubs at the store, but chances are you already have something that will work.
  • In the not-buying-more-stuff category, instead of buying a dish rack to dry the dishes on, I place a dishtowel on the counter and then place my cooling racks on top of them. I put glasses on top of the cooking racks so they can drain and air can get up underneath them.
  • Use eco-friendly dish detergent. You don’t need a lot. Forget those old TV commercials that said you need a sink full of suds.
  • Do not allow the water to run in between rinsing dishes. Turn it off and turn it back on.
  • Work from cleanest to dirtiest dishes. If you start with a greasy pan, you’ll have to dump the water and add more.
  • Work with a partner. The dinner dishes were always my husband’s job (hence his desire to get a new dishwasher sooner rather than later). Since we’ve been doing them by hand, I’ve joined him in the kitchen and I dry the dishes. It’s actually a nice 20 minutes that we’re spending together that we hadn’t been before. I kind of like it.
I don’t know how long we’ll be washing the dishes by hand, but as long as we're doing it, I’ll keep trying to find ways to make it environmentally efficient. Do you have any tips that I haven’t thought of?

See also:

Green cleaning tips

Ways to save water

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Washing dishes by hand
Tips for washing dishes in the sink in the most environmentally responsible way.